Category Archives: Book Reviews

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 8

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 8. (For my reviews of other volumes click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Kai makes a friend at school and invites him over to the palace for tea. He asks his brothers for help in making conversation, but is that really such a good idea…? Then it’s a battle of wits when Heine joins the princes (and princess!) for a game in the courtyard. After all the time they’ve now spent under his tutelage, can the students finally overcome the master?

The Review

Volume 8 begins with three standalone chapters. The first focuses on Leonhard, and unlike most Leonhard-centric stories, it shows him doing something he’s good at. Instead of the usual class setting, he’s sparring with the palace guards (and winning). Yet even in this situation, the recurring theme of his stupidity still returns, but because Akai-sensei has changed the scenario from the typical Leonhard-struggling-with-math-at-his desk, this variant comes off as fresh and entertaining.

The next chapter centers on Kai, the only prince currently attending school, and on what happens when he invites a classmate to the palace for tea. This is partly a continuation of Kai’s journey to interact with others, but it is also an unprecedented occasion for the family and palace staff (apparently, the princes have never had friends over before). As such, in addition to Kai’s usual challenges to be understood, we have the royal household going comically overboard to welcome his guest.

The third chapter features Adele, and like most chapters involving the little princess, all four brothers and Heine wind up engaged in a charming group activity. In this story, they play a variant of tag with a cute wolf hat. Things get a bit competitive between the tutor and his students, but overall, it’s lighthearted fun.

The latter part of the book is an introduction to an extended Licht-centric arc which starts as carefree as the earlier chapters but gradually darkens to a more serious tone. Having received the King’s permission to continue working at the cafe, Licht is determined to do the best he can—but without his brothers finding out about his job. So, of course, one of them unexpectedly pops in as a customer. However, Akai-sensei’s choice of brother took me completely by surprise and leads to a rather intriguing sibling interaction. At any rate, Licht is forced to do some deep thinking what the rivalry for the throne means to him and how he wants to live his life.

Extras include bonus manga printed on the inside of the cover; three-page bonus about the anime and stage adaption; and the first page printed in color.

In Summary

This volume begins with three fluffy filler chapters that revisit the usual themes of Leonhard’s stupidity, Kai’s struggle to communicate, and the brothers’ affection for their sister. However, Akai-sensei changes things up by highlighting Leonhard’s idiocy in an athletic setting, introducing a new character from Kai’s school, and injecting student-teacher competition into a children’s game. After that, the narrative begins a longer arc that initially doesn’t look serious but then throws a couple of twists that forces the cast’s resident playboy to ponder his future. This arc was not included in the anime, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

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Light Novel Review: Wolf and Parchment: New Theory Spice and Wolf Vol. 2

The Spice and Wolf light novel series has reached its conclusion, but for those who haven’t gotten enough of the Spice and Wolf world, creator Hasekura has a spinoff series: Wolf and Parchment. Read on for the review of Volume 2.

Back Cover Blurb

The young man Col and the daughter of the Wisewolf, Myuri, survived the scripture riots in the port town of Atiph. Col spends intense days being pined for after Myuri tells him about her love.

Meanwhile, Heir Hyland commissions them for another next job. In the coming war with the Church’s forces, control over the strait between the Kingdom of Winfiel and the mainland will play a crucial role. While Myuri is excited for a new adventure, Col cannot hide his unease after hearing about potential heresy among certain pirates for their faith in the “Black-Mother”!

The Review

Volume 2 continues where Volume 1 left off, with tensions high between the Kingdom of Winfiel and the Church. And because the cause of righteousness is Winfiel’s call to arms, they have to be careful about who they ally themselves with in the coming war. Thus, Heir Hyland sends Col to the northern islands, whose inhabitants carry jet images of the Holy Mother, to determine whether the islanders’ faith is true or heresy.

Although Heir Hyland gives Col his mission in the context of the brewing conflict, this story winds up being more about the mystery behind the Black-Mother figures and the plight of region’s impoverished populace, who are frequently forced to sell their own children. The plot actually closely matches the pattern of Hasekura’s Spice and Wolf novels. Our characters go to explore a new place that also has a problem, their investigation unearths an astounding discovery, and that information plus the characters’ know-how allow them to craft a solution to the area’s problem. The resemblance is all the stronger because the region’s problems are economic, and the solution involves conjuring a “miracle” to manipulate the Church, a tactic used more than once in the Spice and Wolf series.

This makes for an interesting external conflict, especially when the truth about the monk Autumn and the Black-Mother figures come to light, but the resolution of Col’s internal journey is problematic. After all, Col is an idealistic, aspiring priest, not a cunning merchant. He’s pitting himself against the corruption of the Church and therefore conducts himself in strict accordance to God’s teachings. When his naive belief collides with the stark misery of the islanders, it makes for a gripping crisis of faith. Ultimately, he chooses to save the islanders by resorting to a method that he previously would have condemned. However, this moral compromise doesn’t seem to cause him any guilt or ambivalence about the faith he represents. And in the end, he remains determined to devote his life to God even though he doesn’t know if that God exists.

Another somewhat problematic element is the dynamic between Myuri and Col. Like Holo in Spice and Wolf, Myuri always seems to have the last word. However, Holo is a centuries-old wisewolf while Myuri’s a reckless tomboy half Col’s age. Although her puppy-like enthusiasm and her crush on Col seem fitting (lots of kids do crush on adults, after all), it seems weird that she constantly gets the better of Col.

This light novel includes the first eight pages of illustrations printed in color, world map, seven black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

Winfiel and the Church may be on the brink of a religious war, but this sojourn to examine the faith of the northern islands winds up being a tale of economics. Despite Col’s devotion to God’s teachings, he relies on the abilities of nonhumans and deception in order to rectify an impoverished community’s financial woes. The way his actions run counter to his dearest beliefs make him less believable as a character, but the larger narrative of the northern islands adventure should hold a lot of appeal for Spice and Wolf fans.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Shortcake Cake Vol. 01

suu Morishita is a manga creator duo, and their slice of life series Shortcake Cake is being released by Viz Media. Read on for my review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Ten Serizawa has a two-hour commute through the mountains to high school every day, so she can’t spend much time hanging out with her friends in the afternoon. She decides to move into the local boardinghouse, where one of her friends and three other boys are living. Ten’s friends consider her to be as oblivious as a rock when it comes to noticing boys and falling in love, but will she be able to keep her calm and steady heart in her new living situation?

The Review

Because I’m a shojo manga fan, Viz’s Shojo Beat titles generally have at least some amount of appeal for me, and I’ve enjoyed several series with “ordinary girl” protagonists. As such, I was surprised to find Shortcake Cake such a disappointment.

To start, the plot is hardly a page turner. Our main character Ten is a freshman from Ryunohara, which is a two-hour bus ride from the nearest high school. Her schoolmate Ageha is also from Ryunohara, but she stays at a local boarding house to avoid the commute. After spending the night with Ageha at the boarding house and meeting its residents, Ten decides to move in there, too.

This opening scenario could have delivered conflict and drama to engage the reader, but it doesn’t. Moving out might be unusual for most teenagers, but in Ten’s rural community, it’s no big deal, everyone does it. Her parents have no problem with her moving away, and paying for her room and board isn’t a financial burden. Yes, there are boys living at the boarding house, but the girls are not overwhelmingly outnumbered (once Ten moves in, the house boards three boys and three girls). Plus there is a live-in house mother to enforce the rules. As such, the opening chapter ends up being a long-winded introduction to Ten’s housemates.

Without any major (or minor) external conflicts, it’s up to character relationships to carry the story forward. Unfortunately, they’re not all that interesting. Ten’s female friends are all bland friendly types. As for her male housemates, we have a stereotypical bespectacled nerd, a flirty Casanova, and a gorgeous intellectual. It eventually becomes clear that the plot will center around these boys’ interest in the main character. The problem is Ten’s not outstanding at all. Her looks are on par with the other female boarders; she has no goal she’s trying to accomplish or challenge she needs to overcome; and while she is not antisocial, her personality is pretty dull. As a result, I have trouble warming up to her as a main character. So when Riku, the resident playboy, instantly falls for her, it feels completely forced.

In addition to the lackluster narrative, the artwork is also unimpressive. The only difference between the two resident lookers Riku and Chiaki is a minor variation in their bangs, so in group scenes, I had trouble telling which boy was which. Also, the illustrator frequently uses mini-eyes and mini-faces in dialogue bubbles to indicate the speaker, but except for Yuto the singular glasses character, they are all so similar that I’m still left guessing as to who is talking.

Extras include an afterword, bonus mini-manga, and title page collection at the end of the book. Oddly, there are no footnotes or translation notes despite a number of cultural references.

In Summary

I usually enjoy Shojo Beat titles, so I was unexpectedly underwhelmed by this one. The heroine Ten is neither engaging nor inspiring, and without any real conflict or believable chemistry between the characters, the plot is boring. I can’t recommend the illustrations on this one either. Shortcake Cake doesn’t have offensive or inappropriate content, but without real substance, it doesn’t have much to like either.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #19

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has a unique bent. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has released the 19th volume of this novel series, and you can read on for the review. (You can also click here for my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases).

Back Cover Blurb

Blissful days continue for the ex-merchant and the wolf as they pass the days together in their mountain home. Ever since Col and Myuri set off on a journey of their own, the bathhouse has been a little shorthanded so a new hire was brought on. But this newcomer is a wolf, just like Holo, and the problems with her joining the staff seem endless…

The Review

Spring Log II delivers four additional stories that take place after Lawrence and Holo have settled down together. However, even though A Petal’s Fragrance and Wolf is framed in the context of Lawrence and Holo as empty-nesters, the tale actually centers on an incident that took place while they were still traveling about in Lawrence’s wagon. It’s very much a classic Spice and Wolf setup. The pair arrive in a community with a money-related dilemma (in this case, contention over funding for a water mill’s repairs), and through some combination of Lawrence’s and Holo’s abilities, a clever answer to the problem arises. Considering that Holo’s rose-scented oil is the inspiration for Lawrence’s money-making/fire-prevention scheme, it seems as if the solution should have been obvious much sooner. But because they’re stuck pondering the problem for so long,  readers get to see Lawrence and Holo handle the situation as recently committed lovers rather than simply merchant and wisewolf.

The POV next shifts from Lawrence to Col in Sweet Fangs and Wolf. Lawrence and Holo take on the role of supporting cast, and the spotlight turns to Spice and Wolf’s aspiring priest and the tomboy Miyuri. While we get a glimpse of Lawrence and Holo as parents, the story is more about Col’s and Miyuri’s drastically different personalities and how they manage to maintain a warm relationship despite their differences.

Then it’s back to Lawrence’s POV and another travel story in Grooming Sheep and Wolf. But this trip takes place after the events of Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf of Volume 18, and poor Lawrence is dealing with the aches and pains that come with getting older. However, certain things do get better with age. In the main Spice and Wolf arc, Lawrence was constantly misreading situations and looking the fool before Holo. In this story, the roles get switched; Holo’s the one caught in embarrassment, and Lawrence is able to see the true feelings behind the Holo’s crumbling facade. After so many volumes of Holo mocking Lawrence, this story is a refreshing change of pace.

For the final story in the volume, Hasekura-sensei uses a POV we don’t see often: Holo’s. Set after Grooming Sheep and Wolf and the first volume of Wolf and Parchment, Memories of Spice and Wolf shows the Spice and Wolf household shaken up not only by the new wolf Selim but the repercussions from the actions of the kids who’ve recently left. As such, it winds up feeling like two separate stories, one about Selim’s adjustment from her family pack and another about the avalanche of parchment that’s landed on Lawrence’s desk.

The thing that holds the otherwise disparate arcs together is Holo’s anxious struggle to embed events in her memory. References to time feel less concrete than in other characters’ POVs, which heightens the impression that Holo experiences the flow of events much differently than the rest of the cast. For most of the series, Holo has been the image of confidence and power. However, just as in Grooming Sheep and Wolf, Holo’s insecure side comes to the surface, and it’s Lawrence who recognizes that weakness and lovingly shows her a way past her fears. Interestingly, Holo never refers to Lawrence by name. While in her perspective, Lawrence is “her companion” or “Fool” (although she does call Lawrence “dear” twice during a tender moment). Regardless, he is precious to her, and her emotions flow beautifully off the page as Lawrence tries to prepare her for the day he can no longer be with her.

This light novel includes the first eight pages of illustrations printed in color, world map, seven black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

Holo never refers to Lawrence as her husband, but Spring Log II covers the span of what is essentially their marriage, from the early days when they were still traveling by wagon to parenting moments with Myuri and Col to the empty-nester phase. Economics figures into some of the stories, but the main focus is Holo and Lawrence’s relationship and the issues that arise because Lawrence’s lifespan is so much shorter than Holo’s. While Holo retains her sharp tongue, she shows much more affection than in the main Spice and Wolf arc, and there are plenty of warm and fuzzy moments for Holo/Lawrence fans to enjoy.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 7

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 7. (For my reviews of other volumes click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Princes Kai, Bruno, Leonhard, and Licht have been making great strides thanks to an excellent education from Heine, the royal tutor. Even so, with the return of Prince Eins, the eldest of the brothers and heir apparent to the crown, the wall they must climb in the struggle to become the most qualified candidate for the throne looks more colossal than ever. Can the four younger princes stand up to their biggest rival?

The Review

Volume 7 is comprised entirely of material not included in the anime. Chief among them is the introduction of Prince Eins, who, although he was mentioned in the TV series, never actually made an appearance in the show. After teasing readers for several chapters, Akai-sensei finally brings him into the manga in Chapter 36, “Return of the Black Prince.”

And Eins definitely fits the description “Black Prince.” Not only is he dark-haired in contrast to his mostly fair family, he has an intimidating, scowly (though handsome) face and a demeanor to match. In other words, he looks like a villain. Initially, he acts the part, too, with his brusque attitude toward his family. However, when Heine directly confronts Eins with his suspicions about interference with the younger princes, the Black Prince doesn’t draw the story into anything more diabolical. Rather, he scoffs at the idea that his brothers are true competition for the throne and makes his case by pointing out their flaws, which readers are intimately acquainted with.

As such, our introduction to Eins starts with a bang but ultimately doesn’t make much impact. He leaves town after strutting his superiority, and the brothers resolve to make themselves into real competition for kingship, which is something they’ve been working on anyway.

With that, the narrative returns to the brothers’ individual efforts, starting with Leonhard. Unfortunately, his chapter is the same old theme of how stupid he is. Next, the focus shifts to Kai, and Akai-sensei makes an interesting choice in how to present his progress. Rather than show it from the second prince’s point of view, fiancée Beatrix returns to the story, and given how mellow Kai is, Beatrix’s perspective on the situation does make for a livelier story.

The last two chapters go to Licht. Having determined that his one unique advantage is his frequent interactions with commoners, he’s decided to learn as much as he can about regular folk. However, he gets more than he bargains for when a storm forces him and Heine to spend the night with the cafe owner. Licht may mingle with commoners, but he’s definitely got a noble’s sensibilities, and it’s fun to see Heine knocking Licht off his high horse.

Extras include bonus manga printed on the inside of the cover; five-page bonus story; and first page printed in color.

In Summary

The eldest prince Eins finally appears! But despite his “Black Prince” demeanor and looks, he come off more as a snotty older sibling than a villain sabotaging his brothers’ chances. As such, there’s not a whole lot of added drama despite the anticipation Akai-sensei built up. However, those who prefer to laugh at our princelings will be gratified by the fluffy, filler chapters in the book’s second half.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: Silver Spoon Vol. 3

Before she became the mangaka of the hit fantasy series Fullmetal Alchemist, Hiromu Arakawa was a dairy farm girl. Now she brings those country experiences into her series Silver Spoon. Read on for the review of Volume 3!

Back Cover Blurb

A few weeks into his summer job at Mikage Ranch, Hachiken has proven himself a hard worker, even under the skeptical gaze of Aki’s father. His first term at Ezo AG has given him a great deal to think about-the future, the fate of Pork Bowl-but open pastures and fresh air provide a very different backdrop to his worries than his previous life in the city. Still, when he chose not to go home for summer break, Hachiken hardly expected home to come to him!

The Review

Hachiken’s summer at the Mikage Ranch continues. Our city boy’s sojourn in the countryside continues to deliver a nice combination of laughs and education (Hey, I’m a city slicker, too!), but when he and Mikage talk about dreams and family expectations, the narrative also touches upon the family dynamic that made Hachiken choose not to go home.

Then the story plunges deep into the Hachiken family dynamic when Hachiken’s older brother Shingo bursts unannounced onto the Mikage Ranch. Personality-wise, carefree Shingo is the exact opposite of Hachiken, and his particular talent for ruining food introduces a new running joke into the story. But even though Hachiken bears an intense dislike for his brother, the feeling is not mutual. Rather, Shingo admires what his younger brother is doing and encourages him to do what he wants. Their parents never make an actual appearance in this volume, but the bits of communication that they direct to their sons paint a pretty clear picture why Hachiken wants to get away from them.

Then school resumes, and the story shifts away from the family situation Hachiken’s trying to escape and back to the dilemma he can’t seem to get over: the fate of Pork Bowl. Rather than come to terms with the fact that Pork Bowl was born to be meat, Hachiken gets more tied up in knots now that Pork Bowl is full-grown. Unfortunately, there’s no stopping Pork Bowl’s slaughter date, and when it’s finally staring Hachiken in the face, he makes a surprising proposal. I love this part of the story, how Hachiken has become so acutely aware of the animal lives that make meat possible and how that pushes him to acknowledge those lives the best way he can. Vegetarians probably won’t be too happy with his decision, but as another person who can’t become a vegetarian, I really enjoyed it.

For those who have seen the anime, the manga and TV series share the same major scenes and general timeline. However, there are a number of small scenes in the manga that were not included in the anime, and the last-minute fattening of Pork Bowl in the anime was not part of the manga.

Extras include story thus far, character profiles, bonus manga, and translation notes.

In Summary

Summer vacation arcs often mean fun outings with friends, trips to the beach, swimsuits, and festivals. But that’s not the case for Hachiken. While he does manage to attend a festival, his summer is marked by more unpleasant incidents in the countryside and unwanted visits from his free-spirited older brother. As usual, Arakawa-sensei does an excellent job balancing the comedy of Hachiken’s city boy bungling and his angst over the fate of Pork Bowl and other farm animals.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Caterpillar Girl and Bad Texter Boy

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, a novella about a guy who turns into a big bug, is standard reading in a lot of schools. For those who’ve craved more stories in that vein, mangaka Sanzo presents the single volume tale of Caterpillar Girl and Bad Texter Boy!

Back Cover Blurb

When a beautiful girl asks her childhood friend out, his response is a shocker: ‘You’re too perfect.’ What’s a girl to do, except transform into a giant caterpillar and try, try again?

The Review

Caterpillar Girl and Bad Texter Boy sounds like the name of a superhero team or a comic duo. However, the characters of this seven-chapter, single volume manga are not heroic, and while there is some humor, the story is more melodrama than laughs.

”Bad Texter Boy” refers to Akane Kuchinashi, and it’s a misnomer because you only see him using his smartphone on the first page. He’s more accurately described as a borderline NEET (a shut-in). Although he attends school, he doesn’t have any confidence, is bad at interacting with others, and therefore keeps to himself.

However, Akane does have one friend: Suzume Kikuo, the girl next door. She’s beautiful, smart, and popular—the exact opposite of him. So Akane’s shocked when Suzume asks to be his girlfriend. Instead of being happy about it, he turns her down, saying that she’s too perfect and he’s too messed up for it to work. Unwilling to give up, Suzume decides to rectify the situation, not by changing Akane, but by turning herself into a giant caterpillar.

And there you have the humor in the story, with Akane freaking out at his transformed friend and Suzume struggling to do things in her new body. However, the story doesn’t devolve into a weird ”my girlfriend is a bug” comedy. Akane feels incredible guilt about the situation so he seeks out Yutaka Ouga, the schoolmate who told Suzume how she might change herself. However, when he finds Yutaka, she is strangely hostile toward him.

With the introduction of Yutaka, the focus shifts to the origins of Akane’s pathetic personality. In addition to self-reflection on Akane’s part, Yutaka inadvertently stumbles upon a major element of dysfunction in the Kuchinashi family.  At the same time, Suzume’s personality starts to degrade. The narrative that results is less about a bizarre magical transformation and more about the lingering effects of the damage people inflict upon one another.

Although Yutaka claims to be happy with her ending, the book’s conclusion is better described as bittersweet. Despite its magical elements, Caterpillar Girl and Bad Texter Boy is not a fairy tale, and Suzume’s ultimate state and the burden Akane embraces at the end is a metaphor for the scars in their relationship.

Extras include embedded author’s afterword, 4-page bonus manga, and title page in color.

In Summary

The title makes it sound like a comedy, but it’s not. Despite the supernatural transformation of a character into a giant bug, this single-volume story is really a commentary on human relationships and the immense impact that invisible emotional hurts have on our lives.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 1

Ah…high school romance. It is a staple of shojo manga, and Shizuki Fujisawa adds another title to this list with Hatsu*Haru. Read on for the review of Volume 1!

Back Cover Blurb

Playboy Kai knows his way around girls’ hearts, but when he has a run-in with tomboy Riko, he may be in for more than he bargained for! Riko clearly doesn’t fit Kai’s usual type of girl: she’s short-tempered, scary, and can (has) easily beat him up. There’s no way a rough and tumble girl like Riko is capable of a delicate feeling as love! So imagine his surprise when he finds out about her secret, one-sided crush… But it’s none of his concern, right?

The Review

It only takes a glance at Hatsu*Haru’s dewy-eyed character designs and sparkly backdrops to know that this is a shojo romance. And inside the cover are a host of stereotypical elements for that genre: the high-school setting, the handsome playboy, the awkward heroine, the crush on a teacher. However, one aspect of Hatsu*Haru that veers from standard protocol is that our main character is a guy.

First-year student Kai Ichinose is a handsome playboy, and his relationships with girls don’t go much deeper than a good time to indulge his male hormones. As for the beauties he flirts with, they definitely do NOT include tomboy Riko Takahashi. Especially after she thrashes him for breaking her friend’s heart. But despite his efforts to avoid her, he winds up as co-class representatives with Riko. And when he discovers she has a one-sided crush on their homeroom teacher, Kai find himself falling in love with her.

That last bit is the biggest leap of the story. Riko and Kai have known each other since third grade (or as they put it, “an unnecessarily long time”), and during that time, Riko has fought and humiliated Kai more than once. She is decidedly an enemy in Kai’s eyes. But then he catches her looking longingly at the object of her affections, and suddenly Kai is head over heels for her.

If you can make the leap that a maiden’s tender look (on another guy!) can captivate a shallow philanderer, the rest of the story is quite entertaining, with a good balance of comedy and heart-fluttering moments. Much of the humor gets supplied by Kai’s three friends: Miki, Tarou, and Takaya. Although they make a foursome, they’re not an F4-type clique. Rather, they serve as a means for Kai to vocalize his internal turmoil. As he struggles with inexplicable new emotions, his friends alternate between teasing him and making commentary that indicates just how much Riko’s affected him.

As for the romantic bits, Fujisawa-sensei relies on cliche situations  (i.e., object of affection gets a fever, school camp confessions). However, she depicts the characters’ emotions so exquisitely and paces her drawings so beautifully that the illustrations completely draw you in. So even though Kai’s abrupt attraction to Riko might not seem plausible when considered objectively, Fujisawa-sensei’s drawings make you believe it’s 100% real.

Extras include embedded author’s notes, afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

Hatsu*Haru might have a male protagonist, but it is a shojo romance through and through. The way our hero falls for the heroine might test the limits of credibility, but if you can get past that, you’ve got a wonderfully illustrated dynamic of a guy who wants a girl who’s pining after a man she can’t have.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #02

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 02 of the light novel adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

After being reborn and becoming a magic wielding soldier in the Imperial Army, Tanya Degurechaff bemoans her fate of being placed at the very edge of the front lines instead of a comfy place in the rear. Swearing revenge on Being X, she plunges head-first into battle, dragging her subordinate along with her!

The Review

The second volume of The Saga of Tanya the Evil is as much about Tanya’s newly formed battalion, the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion, as it is about Tanya. The battalion’s very existence came about because of Tanya, and its fate is intricately connected to hers. While Tanya often curses Being X, there is no real dialogue between mortals and immortals in this installment. It’s all about human actions, individual and corporal, and as the beleaguered Empire faces enemies on three sides, it sends the 203rd jumping from front to front.

As in the anime, the 203rd first obliterates a Dacian invasion and then gets sent to Norden before finally going to the Republican Front. As a result, the book starts with a positive tone, which gets progressively darker as battle conditions worsen and enemies get tougher. Meanwhile, Tanya continues to be misunderstood by friend and foe alike; no one would think that she wants peace more than anyone.

Although the situations Zen sets up in Volume 2 are quite intriguing, his particular writing style requires effort to slog through. Just as in Volume 1, the text is plagued with abrupt POV shifts and lack of dialogue tags. On top of that, Zen has a tendency to overexplain the decisions of military and state heads. In addition, the narrative is full of redundant statements. So even though the reader winds up learning exactly what everyone’s doing and how they came to that plan of action, reading all that minutiae gets tedious.

However, there are fun bits. While the anime delves into the training of the original 203rd members, it glosses over the raw recruits that the battalion receives AFTER arriving on the Republican Front. Tanya’s praises to the shovel rather remind me of the way the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy hails the towel. The new recruits’ baptism by fire in the trenches did not get animated, but reading about it from Second Lieutenant Warren Grantz’s perspective was thrilling.

Another Volume 2 arc that wasn’t included in the anime is the botched Norden-Commonwealth smuggling attempt on the high seas. Although the text flowed like cold tar and Zen takes a ridiculous amount of time before revealing the ultimate fate of the Commonwealth submarine, this skirmish is a gripping collision of coincidences and mistakes from everyone involved. If Zen could somehow streamline his writing, it would definitely make for on-the-edge-of your-seat reading.

Extras include a map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes explaining military strategy and history timeline; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

Carlo Zen’s longwinded prose continues to test the endurance of those who would read about his alternate world. (He even admits in the afterword that this volume is a bit thick.) However, if you’re willing to take on this 406-page behemoth, you’ll be rewarded with a Norden battle and a Republican Front “training exercise” that weren’t included in the anime. In addition, you’ll know all the details that lead up to each of 203rd Battalion’s orders— whether you’re interested or not.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Manga Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #15

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has  a unique bent to it. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has released Volume 15 of the Spice and Wolf manga, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

The Debau Company is headed to a point of no return. The radicals within the company have made their move and deposed the conservative faction, all the while steering the northlands closer to the brink of open battle. A certain wolf rushes South as fast as her paws can carry her, but can Lawrence and the Myuri Mercenary Company hold back the flames of war long enough for a chance at lasting peace?

The Review

Having been manipulated by Hilde into fleeing Lesko, Lawrence and the Myuri Mercenaries must determine their next plan of action. The discussion between Lawrence and the mercenary leaders is intended to provide a snapshot of their current circumstances and options, but it is a little difficult to follow. However, they clearly make the decision to go to Svernel, as Hilde intended, and shortly thereafter, the situation really gets interesting when pursuers hired by the Debau Company catch up to them.

The Myuri Company’s reaction to the arrival of the Hugo Company and Luward’s communications with Captain Rebonato might strike readers as baffling. After all, these people are mercenaries, and modern Western readers generally think of mercenaries as fighters-for-hire whose only loyalty is to money. To the contrary, the mercenaries of the Spice and Wolf world are people with their own code of honor and who are distinctly different from knights, hired thugs, and assassins. As such, the staged battles between the Myuri and Hugo Companies were not at all what I expected.

Holo’s return to Lawrence is also rather low-key. Although she alludes to difficulties when she returned to Lesko to find Lawrence gone, the Myuri Company is not in dire straits when she rejoins them. That relaxed atmosphere allows for an unexpectedly tender moment in the snow with our lead couple. (Although the romance is immediately followed by blatant fan service when Holo retrieves the forbidden book.)

That lack of tension also serves another purpose: heightening the Myuri Company’s shock when their staged negotiation go awry. While the code of honor between mercenaries remains a bit of a puzzle for me, the turnabout is effective at flinging our heroes back into peril and bringing excitement back to the pages.

Extras include title illustration in color and afterword.

In Summary

Apparently, merchants aren’t the only ones who strike negotiations and scheme to minimize losses. Mercenaries do, too! Lawrence gets a glimpse into the world of mercenaries as he flees with the Myuri Company to Svernel.

First published at the Fandom Post.